Solving the hybrid working challenge

Author, Dr Caroline Sekiwano. PHOTO/COURTESY. 

What you need to know:

Whatever hybrid work model you select as an organisation will not have the desired outcomes unless you address the people side of the change

Leaders that my colleagues and I speak to across professions find themselves grappling with hybrid working in an ever uncertain world where so much is still unknown and things are rapidly changing, what is clear though is that building our work life post the Covid-19 pandemic will involve longer term shifts to hybrid working which raises new challenges of inclusion, employee wellbeing and new different demands for people managers.

Over the past 20 months, people have faced substantial challenges as a result of the pandemic. Employers are now taking this as an opportunity to reevaluate their approaches and make lasting changes and one of the most popular way forward is hybrid working arrangements.   If implemented haphazardly, hybrid working can lead to a misalignment between the employees that work in the office and those working remotely since one of the main appeals of hybrid working is the balance between autonomy and collaboration, employers need to ensure that they promote both and set specific days for in-office work and make these work days focus on collaboration, while the days when everyone’s working from home are reserved for more autonomous work which doesn’t require as much in-person interaction, however the balance on meetings between in-office and remote employees should be a key consideration and managers should ensure to make video the default for all meetings. This is a great strategy for the success of hybrid events and to ensure nobody is left out.

 Organizations may need to consider renting out the unutilized spaces as a result of hybrid working depending on how managers intend to balance in-office and remote work, because keeping a dedicated office with all its office perks would be a waste of resources. One good option is using the rent proceeds to look into becoming more distributed with several smaller local offices.

 With remote and especially hybrid work, handling employee costs and expenses isn’t quite as straightforward as with fully physical in-house employees. For instance, it makes sense that remote employees aren’t entitled to a reimbursement of travel expenses and should instead be compensated for using their own internet and electricity. But how do you balance that in a hybrid setting? Employers need to offer employees a choice and advise them about the tradeoffs and changes to their benefits well in advance and if tempted to cut the salary of those employees who opt to go fully remote - don’t!

 Management of remote employees can get tricky, for both managers and employees as managers are more likely to favor in office employees however a culture of trust is essential in managing employees working autonomously and remotely and frequent communication through well-established channels is also key. Organisations should re-evaluate their onboarding process to accommodate more remote onboarding.

The future of hybrid working may have many model versions that will continue to emerge therefore organizations need to choose the right model of work. There is a fundamental part of the puzzle often overlooked. Articles, blogs, videos, newspapers, and magazines will discuss the policies, security, technology, recruitment and onboarding compliance, employee health, and legal implications however what is not being discussed is organisational change management.

 Whatever hybrid work model you select as an organisation will not have the desired outcomes unless you address the people side of the change. Employers need to cast an Organisation change management lens across the move to hybrid work and yes employers need to beware that this is a journey, not a destination therefore organizations need to make the people side of change a top priority in a hybrid working environment.

Dr Caroline Sekiwano is a human resource and organisational development advisor.